Stories of behavior that the young are prone

Stories about youth and the transition from that stage of life into adulthood form a very solidly populated segment of literature. In three such stories, John Updike’s “A & P,” Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” and James Joyce’s “Araby”, young men face their transitions into adulthood. Each of these boys faces a different element of youth that requires a fundamental shift in their attitudes.

Sammy, in “A&P”, must make a moral decision about his associations with adult institutions that mistreat others. Dave, in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” struggles with the idea that what defines a man is physical power. The narrator of “Araby,” struggles with the mistaken belief that the world can be easily categorized and kept within only one limited framework of thought. Each of these stories gives us a surprise ending, a view of ourselves as young people, and a confirmation that the fears of youth are but the foundation of our adulthood.John Updike's short story “A&P,” centers on a young immature and morally ambitious teenager who faces down the generation gap and, rather than bending to the dictates of the elders, rebels against them, securing his rather insecure place as a young, unproven man.

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Sammy, the main character, describes the entrance of a group of young attractive girls into the supermarket, “In walk these three girls in nothing but bathing suits…They didn’t even have shoes on”.(864) Sammy is mesmerized by their presence that he cannot do his job. The supermarket manager, Lengel, scolds the visitors by exclaiming “Girls, this isn’t the beach”.(867) Within the few moments after Sammy dramatically quits his job in protest of the quite impolite treatment by Lengel he says to himself“…and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter”.(869)Because of his youth, and certainly because of the extremes of behavior that the young are prone to demonstrate, Sammy perceives that his life will forever be damaged by his actions. Though we certainly understand that this is not the case, that no one’s life is inexorably ‘ruined’ by the decision to do something momentous, it is certainly quite charming to transport ourselves into a time in our lives when such passions ruled us.

This image awakens in us the expectation, or at least the worry, that Sammy will continue to underestimate the dangers that the world has in store for him. Sammy, however, surprises us, just like the story does. His immediate infatuation with the girls and everything they represented (the youth he was quickly denying himself by being tied at such a young age to the very adult world of work) quickly brought him to realize that his life was still that of a young person. What he thinks is an act of bravery, which will certainly be awarded with the attentions of “Queenie”, turns out to be a solo act of personal assertion. Just when Sammie thinks his life is ending, it is truly just beginning. Richard Wright’s story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, is also a story of a youthful ignorance of the actual complexities of the world.

To Dave, the main character of the story, getting a gun will make all the difference in his becoming a man, musing “Shucks, a man oughta hava little gun aftah he done worked hard all day….”(923) Just as the youth of the girls in A&P, are the central symbol of that story, the gun is the central literary symbol of Wright’s. With a gun in his hand, Dave is convinced that his fears will disappear, that he will become powerful and honored. Just as Updike demonstrates with Sammy, Wright shows us that Dave is both naïve and misguided. From the first, Dave demonstrates his childishness in his very strategy to get the gun. He speculates, sounding quite immature, that his mother will give him a gun. He is subsequently childish in his handling, or mishandling, of the old revolver.

As he tries to fill the hole he has shot into the side of the dying mule with dirt, his concocted story is also childish. Like “A&P”, Wright’s story ends in a change that is certainly unexpected. His flight from home, like Sammy’s quitting, gives him a reprieve from the fate that he has brought upon himself. He has wrapped himself up in so much stupidity through his immaturity that he cannot think that if only he stopped behaving in that way, no one would remember his behavior.

Everything that Dave hopes for is ironically reversed. James Joyce’s, “Araby”, like “A&P”, and “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, is an exploration of a young boy’s disillusionment. This story, which is narrated by a young boy, is a tale of an internal conflict. The first person narrative, like the other two stories.

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